Retrans Fights Get More Annoying As Cable Hits Users With Sneaky Below-The-Line 'Broadcast TV' Fees

from the nickel-and-dime dept

If you hadn't noticed (read: are a cord cutter), the battle over higher retransmission fees between broadcasters and cable operators has grown immensely more annoying for consumers, with last year seeing a record amount of content blacked out as the two sides fought over rates. Consumers are usually put in the middle of the battle, with broadcasters blaming pay TV companies for the breakdown in negotiations and vice versa; both sides then bombarding consumers with calls or on-screen tickers insisting they act immediately and call the other guy to complain. We've seen these fights evolve over the years to include the blackout of online content as well, with the Time Warner Cable and CBS fight last year reaching entirely new levels of annoying.

After the smoke clears, confidential deals are struck, and the pretense of caring about how much consumers are paying fades away, the costs then get passed on to the consumer as the icing on an ugly process. Normally, cable companies include these hikes in the cost of doing business on your final bill. However, a growing number of cable companies are embedding a portion of these hikes in below the line fees, allowing them to jack up your cable bill, but still advertise the same price. Comcast, for example, recently started charging users a $1.50 Broadcast TV Fee that the company insists is part of improving your entertainment experience:
"At Comcast we are committed to constantly improving your entertainment and communications experience, and we continue to invest in making your services even better. As we make these and other investments, we periodically need to adjust prices due to increases we incur in programming and other business costs. Among these price changes, we have itemized a Broadcast TV Fee in order to identify some of the rising costs or retransmitting broadcast television signals. In recent years, the cost of retransmitting broadcast television signals has increased significantly, and going forward we want to address these increasing costs through a separate itemized charge."
While I know massive multi-billion-dollar new skyscrapers don't build themselves and the $45.2 billion needed for new mergers doesn't grow on trees, I was always under the impression that part of the primary cost of doing business in the cable industry was programming -- and as such, that should be included in the normal price of service (the same service broadcast and cable raises the price of sometimes as often as twice a year). Comcast certainly isn't alone in this practice; Charter has imposed this kind of charge for more than a year, and AT&T this week notified U-Verse customers they'll now be paying $3 per month instead of $2 for the fee. If you're on Time Warner Cable, you should be getting a notice soon that they're adding the fee as well.

Again, burying ordinary costs of this kind is a common tactic in the cable TV industry, and it's a form of false advertising regulators seem to believe is all in good fun. It's useful if you're a cable operator interested in jacking up prices while keeping advertised prices the same, bumping prices on people you've convinced have signed "price lock guarantees," or raising rates on users who are otherwise paying a fixed-rate under contract. It's also useful if you want to trot out statistics showing how cable rate hikes are slightly less than they actually are. Or, as Comcast phrases it, ensuring you have a really fantastic, compelling television "experience" and are getting the utmost "value" for your entertainment dollar. Enjoy!

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    rycho (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 4:58pm

    Rule #1

    So much for businesses making our lives more comforting. With all the aggressive activity occurring in the competitive arena for our last pennies, we're not getting any peace to enjoy our illusions of freedom, choice, and entertainment.

    What ever happened to the rule of giving the customer what (s)he wants?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:31pm

    Re: Rule #1

    That's not in the current corporate business model. If you're leveraged to the hilt and want to borrow more money for something, you have to drive stock prices up. In a non-growth industry, this means bilking the consumers a bit more to fake growth and hoping not enough of them leave to offset the gain.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:38pm

    "At Comcast we are committed to constantly improving our bottom line, and we continue to charge the consumer to make our corporate benefits even better. As we make these and other adjustments, we periodically need to increase charges due to other greedy assholes we are forced into purchasing programming from.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:42pm

    Bring it on!

    I dunno. I think an itemized bill would not be a bad idea. Lay it all on the table and let everyone know how these ridiculous cable bills break down. I can understand the idea. Cable companies are being squeezed over nonsense that should be FREE. Of course they want to raise the profile of this issue any make broadcasters look like the greedy bast*rd they are.

    Although it's hard to have sympathy for either party here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    rycho (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:53pm

    Re: Bring it on!

    Only one getting squeezed that I care about, and it is NOT a cable company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 5:53pm

    The only growth in the cable industry is in their pants when they get that big fat pay increase.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 6:19pm

    Cut! Cut! Cut!

    You do not need cable TV in your life.

    You want sports, then go play sports. You'll have more fun and your health will improve.

    Everyone else read a book, see a play, learn to play an instrument - you will be a happier person if you do.

    And just think of all the extra money you'll now have for your new hobbies when you're not paying a cable bill.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 6:51pm

    No looking back

    Cut the cord 6 years ago and don't miss it one bit. In fact, my options are better now than they were 6 years ago. Cable is such a waste of money. I prefer the money in my pocket rather than having all the endless reruns and reality garbage. There aren't more than 20 stations worth having so who needs hundreds of channels when most of the time you surf through them all and still cant find anything worthwhile to waste an hour watching.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 6:55pm

    year 2024: Comcast? what is that?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Jill K, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 7:37pm

    Retrans is a joke

    Made up by the broadcast networks because they were too late in admitting that cable was eating their lunch. 2014 is going to be the year of the Great Media Bloodbath:
    http://mankabros.com/blogs/onmedea/2013/11/22/the-great-media-bloodbath-of-2014/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Kronomex, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 2:35am

    Hell, I wouldn't touch cable TV with a 40 foot barge pole here in Australia. We have a choice of Rupert's Fox Crapwork, I mean Network, or Optus which is made up of mostly Fox Crapwork. Some choice. Actually, I don't even have a television anymore, I put it out on the nature strip one night about two years ago because of the steaming shit that passes for content in this country. My viewing by that time had literally dropped to one hour a week.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 3:04am

    Does not affect me. These people are irrelevant.

    And this is what they should be worried about, not some petty disputes. When they are fully irrelevant for everybody these fees will matter very little.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 5:10am

    Re: Re: Rule #1

    It's why I'm so damn skeptical of the "vote with your wallet" argument trotted out by big "L" Libertarians. "Take it or leave it" isn't much of a choice, is it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    jackn, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 5:18am

    I guess they just want to become obsolete quickly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 5:54am

    A la carte

    If they are able to itemize to this level, surely they have the capability to allow me to cherry pick the channels I want to view and pay for. They seem quite able to let me select HBO for XX$ per month but not so if all I want is ESPN. Go figure.

    Liars.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    rycho (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    I only have one choice of ISP, unless I want dial up. Can't exactly vote with my wallet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:38am


    "At Comcast we are committed to constantly improving your entertainment and communications experience, and we continue to invest in making your services even better. As we make these and other investments, we periodically need to adjust prices due to increases we incur in programming and other business costs. Among these price changes, we have itemized a Broadcast TV Fee in order to identify some of the rising costs or retransmitting broadcast television signals. In recent years, the cost of retransmitting broadcast television signals has increased significantly, and going forward we want to address these increasing costs through a separate itemized charge."


    Did they get Clapper to write that for them? It sure sounds like his kind of justification.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Chris Rhodes (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    When you look at the reasons behind only having one "choice" in an area, you'll usually find the government staring back at you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:49am

    you dont think these situations are done on purpose, do you, just to be able to charge customers more money??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Rule #1

    Yes, the government that has been purchased by the telecoms.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:31am

    "We're the phone company. We don't care; we don't have to."
    Earnestine (Lily Tomlin)

    However, Ma Bell got busted up anyhow. Comcast's time will come.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Telecom Chick, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 12:17pm

    Re:

    Have you looked lately. Ma Bell is reassembling itself just under a different name.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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